Guys like Seth MacFarlane are why I bought my daughter a Tonka truck

This weekend I was solo parenting Abigail while Erin was in New Orleans for a half-marathon. We were supposed to be down there as a family but a last-minute toddler cold and fever had us facing down a nightmare travel scenario for our first plane ride together. Less a noble act of chivalry and more self-preservation, I did wonder – after what seemed like Erin’s second Facebook status about beignets – if I’d chickened out a bit.  Midnight on Friday-into-Saturday morning with Abigail refusing to sleep unless she was leaning against me argued otherwise. It’s one thing doing that in your own house, another on a plane and other unfamiliar surroundings.

(Side note: Somewhere in my head is a post about how parenting is the art of things not going according to plan but I made two runs at it this weekend in between sick-toddler tantrums and I’ll be damned if I can fashion the ping-ponging thoughts into something coherent. Nora Ephron was right.)

Anyway, the weekend wasn’t without its merits.  Saturday we tested out the family-friendliness of  Horse Thief Hollow, a new gastropub-ish spot here in Beverly (passed with flying colors) and Sunday we went over to Toys-R-Us so I could buy Abigail a Tonka truck.

I’ve never much cared for Seth MacFarlane though I’ll admit to enjoying some of his Family Guy-fueled Star Wars parodies on a couple weekends away with some guy friends. Overall, I was disappointed that a dude who is clearly a song-and-dance man at heart felt the need to overcompensate with misogynist humor and gay-baiting.

Vulture writer and person-I’m-proud-to-call-a-friend Margaret Lyons sums up his hosting performance better than I can and explains why it’s not “just a joke” though I’ll add this: Just because there are other sexist aspects of the Oscars – the pre-show theatrics, plot elements of the films, etc. –  doesn’t mean we can’t object to a joke about Jennifer Aniston lying about being a stripper. What we joke about when we joke about women: appearance, emotion and sexual availability. All this time and so few are working with new material or imagination.

We were at a kid’s birthday party several months ago when Abigail grabbed the back of a Tonka truck and steered it around the basement with glee. I was thrilled: Here was our daughter, young enough to be blissfully ignorant of the concept of gendered play and enjoying the hell out of a truck, tossing stuff in the back of it and self-powering it all over the basement of someone she just met. And not just any truck but the fabled Tonka truck – the Bob Seger-soundtracked-Ford-F-150  of kids’ toys. I made a mental note to buy her one for her next birthday.

With Erin in New Orleans and me needing reasons to get us out of the house, the timing seemed perfect for a trip to the toy store. I’ve obsessed over written of my desire to not default Abigail to pink and princesses and give her some say in her play.  So, even with an agenda in my head, when we walked into that Toys-R-Us I took her hand but let her lead. She zipped past the shelves of Barbies but paused at an endcap of generic dolls. “Lala!” she exclaimed and ran over to the dolls, picking one up and inspecting it. Abigail’s first nanny was Polish. She bought her a doll and the Polish word for doll is “Lala” so there you go. After getting to know her, she hands me the doll. “Do you want this doll?” I ask. She nods yes.

As far as I’m concerned, we’re here to buy a truck. But I want to get her the truck for the same reason I don’t want to assume she’s genetically wired to like princesses. When possible, the world should be hers to explore and decide for herself what she’ll like and what she is like. Someone else’s expectations – even my own – are just that: someone else’s.

We walked through a few more aisles. I took her down the superheroes aisle just to see what would happen; she couldn’t have been less interested. When we got to the Tonka truck aisle there were three that caught her eye though we eventually settled on a dump truck of a size large enough for her to be challenged by it but big enough for her to master.

There was, however, still the matter of Lala, an issue made abundantly clear when Abigail placed her in the bed of the dump truck and proceeded to push the still-in-its-box Tonka truck across the floor. A dollar amount was in my head for this trip and Lala #2 put us over it by about 10 bucks. Plus, it’s not like Lala #1 wasn’t still sitting in her crib.

At this point, I’m rather charmed by Lala #2 so I’m happy with whichever toy makes it home. If it’s the truck, I’m pleased I’m introducing her to the concept of options. If it’s the doll, I’ll prove to my wife I’m not against girly things so long as it’s Abigail who decides it’s what she wants and not everyone else.

I put it to her:

“Do you want Lala or the truck?”
“Truck.”

Win. Except…wait…

“Do you want the truck or Lala?”
She thinks about it a moment.
“Lala.”

“OK, do you want the truck?”
She nods.
Do you want Lala?”
Nod.

At an end, I put the doll in my left hand and the truck in my right and hold them out in front of me. She looks back and forth between the two before charging at the truck, grabbing it with both hands and walking away. When we pass the endcap, I put Lala #2 back on the shelf, knowing I’ll remember this moment the next time I’m passing a Toys-R-Us and turn into the parking lot before the thought passes out of my brain stem.

All I’m saying is I don’t care if she wants a doll or a truck so long as she knows she has options.

Hopefully, she never sees Seth MacFarlane host the Oscars.

* In the interest of limiting the scope of this post, I’m not going to get into The Onion’s idiocy other than to say if we as a society can’t rally around the idea that if you’re going to send up the misogyny we aim at actresses you probably shouldn’t use a misogynist term and the name of a nine year old actress within the same 140 characters – yes, even “satirically” – then I don’t hold out much hope for us.

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